5 Things You Need to Make a Lifestyle Change

Let me preface this by saying: everyone is different. These are 5 things I needed, and 5 things I’ve seen many other people need, but what you need may be different. Making changes requires a lot of reflection and it’s very specific to each individual, so trust yourself to figure out what you need!

reason : Why do you want or need to make a change?

In my case, I was finally tired of not feeling my best. I wasn’t quite sure how I could feel, but my doctor seemed convinced that I could feel better. I had a laundry list of symptoms that turned out to be the result of chronic autoimmune disease, so my motivation lay in alleviating those symptoms.

Once you’ve identified an area of your life that you want to improve, ask yourself this question, which I learned in the beginnings of my health coaching training:

What does your body need to heal itself?

The theory of non-western medicine is that people know their own bodies better than health professionals do. This is contrary to what we’re led to believe: if something’s wrong, doctors know how to fix it, right?

Wrong. Or, right, but only some of the time. The goal of health coaching is to empower people to listen to the data coming from their own bodies. Are you tired? Are you stressed? Do you have eczema? Allergies? Asthma? Do you need Adderall to focus or Nyquil to sleep? Your body is in a state of stress in all those cases. Making a change will be more successful with the identification of that stressor. There may be a lot – in that case, pick one to address. Generally, when one thing starts falling into place, it has a domino effect.

A goal : Change goals must be specific and measurable.

Lifestyle changes require a lot of willpower, and the brain has limited reserves of willpower. Therefore, willpower must be focused in an intentional way. For instance, instead of “eat better,” decide exactly how you want to eat better. Do you want to eat more veggies? “Include leafy greens in at least two meals per day for a week.” Drink more water? “Drink at least 60 oz per day of water for the next 30 days.” The gray areas are totally removed from these goals, and there is an opportunity to do more than your goal, increasing feelings of success.

Goals like this enable mini-successes which replenish willpower reserves. It’s easy to measure whether you’ve accomplished them, so it’s easier to stick to them. It’s also easier to buy into a change for just a week, or just thirty days, allowing small and incremental changes in lifestyle until they become habitual behaviors.

Support : Love and encouragement, from yourself and others, enables the achievement of goals!

Everyone needs different kinds of support. In my world, a good support system is comprised of people that are able to cheer me on when I’ve had a success, are interested in what I’m working on, and hold me accountable for my intentions. People who shut down, shame, or get competitive about lifestyle behaviors are not your lifestyle-change friends. It’s okay, they can be your fun friends, but you need others to provide all the unconditional encouragement that you need as you exert willpower to make a change!

Also, whatever change you’re making, odds are that someone else has made it already. Either this person is in your personal community, or they’re in some social media community somewhere. Instagram has many powerful sources of information and inspiration in the form of wellness bloggers, or registered dieticians and health coaches. Which brings me to….

Inspiration : Keep up your energy by staying inspired!

Embarking on a new goal can be fun. In my wellness journey thus far, I’ve loved learning new tricks in the kitchen, making new recipes, and absorbing new information about health and wellness. It isn’t always easy, which is why inspiration is so important. In those moments when it feels so boring, so frustrating, and so hard, there is usually a new dish that can rekindle some newfound creativity.

Even yesterday, as I contemplated beginning the Autoimmune Protocol for healing my thyroid, I went to the bookstore and bought a new cookbook full of recipes. It totally reinspired my meal planning and made me excited to start the week!

Perspective : The most famous line in the whole30 is a tough love line:

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It is followed by the admission that yes, it will be hard. Food, especially, is an emotional, social, cultural, personal issue that can be very triggering for people. Breaking habits is notoriously hard, because they’re habits, a.k.a. deeply entrenched, automatic behaviors. But, I think this quote is important to remember. Many people said, when I told them about the Whole30, “I could never give up (insert food here).” Having a growth mindset has been the most liberating thing for me. My attitude going into January was “yes, I can do it!” Once I did, it only made it easier to believe.

You can do it, too!

 

5 Things You Need to Make a Lifestyle Change

Where I’ve Been // Where I’m Going

Hello!

I’m back! From multiple things. I’m back from vacation, back from the blogging hiatus, and back in action. It is now summer break, when the most stressful part of my day is deciding in which coffee shop to do my personal projects. I am deeming this summer “self-care summer,” like the milennial cliché that I am, because I think it’s in my best interest to figure out how to take care of myself before next year hits.

Next year, I will be:

  • Taking a year-long nutrition coaching certification course online through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition
  • Beginning a two-year Master of Arts in Psychology
  • Working 30ish hours a week as a Latin teacher

That probably suffices to explain why I will have to be really on top of my self-care game.

Since I’ve sort of changed the theme of my blog, here is an update on my health-related journey. Some of you may remember that I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition wherein the body produces antibodies that attack my own thyroid cells. I’ve had it for a long time. Last year, I went to a naturopathic doctor for the first time and we discovered through blood tests that the medication I’d been prescribed the year before wasn’t working.

Here were my stats in November of 2016:

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A high level of TSH basically means that I have high level of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone in my bloodstream. This indicates that I have Hypothyroidism, because my thyroid is underproducing so much that it requires more and more stimulation to produce even the base amount of hormone. As you can see, it was very high. My doctor said the ideal for her is really around 1.

TPO Ab and Thyroglobulin Antibody are both thyroid hormone-attacking antibodies. If those are present in addition to high TSH levels, it indicates that the thyroid disorder is autoimmune in nature, aka Hashimoto’s. As you can see in my stats, I was pretty critically overproducing those guys.

So, after those first tests, we upped the dosage of Levothyroxine that I was taking – this is basically a synthetic hormone replacement meant to bring down levels of TSH. This next set is from January.

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So, TSH came down quite a bit, but my antibody levels actually went up. My doctor’s explanation was all of the cake and cookies and chocolate – Christmas treats – that I had consumed. Both of these blood tests were pre-Whole30.

In January, I started my second Whole30 round. Those of you who have been following that journey know about this – if you don’t, read back a few posts!

The Whole30ish eating continued through February, March, and I did another strict round in April. To this day, I haven’t had a single meal with soy, gluten, dairy, chicken eggs, or any grains – besides rice and quinoa (maybe a bite or two of a baked good here and there, which I promptly reacted to!).

And, drum roll please….

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Look at that TSH! That was achieved by adding some to my thyroid med dosage (up to 150 mg) and, I like to think, my super clean eating.

However, I am still in the middle of this journey to healing my thyroid. As shown above, my antibodies are still pretty high. At my most recent appointment last week, I suggested (yep, me – I must have a masochistic streak) that I try the Autoimmune Protocol. It’s basically Whole30, although honey and maple syrup are allowed, but without nuts, seeds, eggs, and nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers…), as well as any kind of additive. This unfortunately includes “natural flavor” – goodbye LaCroix – as well as all types of “gum,” which are frequently added as thickeners to coconut milks and things of that nature.

The emphasis with AIP is the consumption of nutrient-dense foods that are anti-inflammatory, meaning they don’t disrupt things in my system.

It’s been a day and a half, and I’ve survived so far! Stay tuned for more things I’ve learned along the way, tips n tricks, reflections, etc.

Wishing everyone the best in all their journeys!

 

 

 

Where I’ve Been // Where I’m Going

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Three Steps Forward

It sounds like a dance move, doesn’t it? Well, that’s me: always Dancin’ With Myself .

In my post on Food and Feelings last time, I talked about my meltdown of a couple of weeks ago, when things just seemed so hard. After that, I was given the green light to add some things that I’d taken out – Thai food (no soy, though), rice, maybe quinoa or other gluten free grains, and mayyyybe paleo sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup.

For the first week, this went okay. I accidentally ate soy sauce because there was free octopus salad at my favorite sushi bar. Cue hand hives. It happened about ten minutes post-consumption: tiny red, itchy spots under my skin. Cue feelings of guilt, frustration, and general angst about the unfairness of it all.

In the following two weeks, my forays out of the Whole30 guidelines included rice cakes, almond flour crackers from Simple Mills (this was really made with all compliant ingredients, but is an SWYPO situation), and coconut butter cups from Eating Evolved (coconut sugar). I also had half a girl scout cookie, and…I think that’s it. Until last weekend.

It was my friend’s going away party. I was prepared with compliantly roasted chips and paleo chili. I swung by Trader Joe’s to pick up some gin and carbonated water – the first alcohol I’d have in 2017. When I arrived, I spontaneously decided that this would be a YOLO night. No more worrying about ingredients, no more label-reading or sticking just to what I knew I could consume without repercussions. So, throughout the evening, I consumed: dark chocolate peanut butter cups, gin and soda water, tequila, tomato (in the chili), and a slice of cake.

It doesn’t sound like much. It didn’t feel like much. But, the next morning, I instantly decided: NOT worth it.

Melissa Hartwig, in Food Freedom Forever, promotes a really great system for enacting the “food freedom” that comes post-Whole30. True food freedom is all about making very mindful choices and critically thinking about what you put into your body.

For example – you will not suddenly want to eat more cake when it’s your birthday. Your body doesn’t know it’s your birthday. If you see some amazing treat, Melissa challenges you to decide, with thorough and conscientious thinking, whether that treat is “worth it.” In other words: armed with the information that Whole30 gave you about how that will affect your body, what is the best course of action? It’s sometimes to eat it… and sometimes, it’s to not eat it.

My first mistake was the gin. I had maybe two drinks of it, but it impacted my ability to make mindful choices for the rest of the evening. My other mistake was deciding to throw the rules out the window. I could have had a few peanut butter cups and been satisfied. But, because I was eating “whatever,” I had to try everything.

Why wasn’t it worth it? For the whole day afterward, I was in bed with a variety of symptoms: stomach distress, a massive headache, fatigue, bloating, and suddenly worsened eczema. I was angsty and irascible. On Sunday, I had a glass of wine with friends. Not only is alcohol not great because it annihilates gut bacteria, but I am also sensitive to grapes, sugar and brewing yeast; this did not go well either. Going back to work on Monday was the worst. I slept poorly for a few days in a row, waking up stressed in the early morning. My mood was depressed; I was less patient and much less fun with the kids.

On Wednesday, I talked to my doctor. She told me to go back to what I know works for me: Whole30 eating. After 14 days of that, I’m supposed to reintroduce a medical food she prescribed me for people with malabsorption. It has sugar in it, so I have to monitor my reaction and make sure it’s okay for me to consume. Round 3, Day 6.

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This stuff is pretty delicious, though…

I follow so many bloggers now who are Whole30, Paleo, health nutty clean eaters. They are often very inspiring, because they show me that it’s possible to get where I want to go. But sometimes, looking at their social media accounts makes me feel like they’ve achieved a perfection that I haven’t achieved yet (that cliché instagram probem). My life right now feels out of balance.

I think it’s important to hear from people in this stage, the struggle to back in balance: the stage where you don’t think it will ever happen, and it feels really hard, and you’re in the middle of this giant life change which exhausts your willpower muscles to a maximum. 

But, in the back of my mind, I know that I’m on a right track. My diet right now includes so many nutrients, so much produce, and so much variety. I am getting better at combining simple ingredients to make varied and delicious meals, and I am really comfortable in the kitchen.

People often express pity that I can’t eat all of the things. My external response is: yeah, it’s hard. My internal response is: but, it’s not worth it for me to eat like I used to. What I put in my body has too much physical, mental and emotional impact on me to ignore. It wasn’t always this way, and I hope it won’t always be this way, but for now I’m embracing my reality and thanking this experience for forcing me into a healthful and nourishing lifestyle.

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New haircuts do wonders for morale!

On that note, I’m thinking of starting a project: developing my blog even more, as if it were my full-time job. If I were to write much more often, what do you want to hear? What do you like about my blog? What do you wish I did differently/more of? You can help by leaving a comment addressing any and all of these questions. Let’s learn and grow together :). 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Three Steps Forward

Food and Feelings

You and food have a relationship.

Food and I have a relationship. One of the things I love and hate about the whole30 is that it purports to change your “relationship” with food. Only in the midst of my 2nd? 3rd? round do I finally realize exactly what kind of relationship they mean.

Food is the most significant other we have. It’s in our life daily. We depend on it for sustenance. It makes us feel happy, sad, frustrated, tired. It’s also an activity that connects us to other people. It’s how we celebrate and socialize. I didn’t realize how impactful it was until I started intentionally thinking about that impact.

But guys, changing that relationship is hard.

I had a meltdown at the doctor’s office this week, because she started telling me about more stuff I can try to help me digest things. Subconsciously, I wanted her to say, “you’re healed, go forth and eat all the things.”

Of course that wasn’t the reality. Guts are hard to heal, and it takes a lot of time and patience and healthy, clean choices. I’ve been pretty positive and gung-ho and energetic about my new lifestyle for the past 55 days…but suddenly, in the past couple of weeks, I can’t help thinking about what I’m missing.

The Domino’s ads on my Insta feed make me drool. The pastries at coffee shops call out to me: “eat us…” My housemate made pesto tortellini the other night and I spent a good three minutes staring at the pot, smelling the cheese, and thinking to myself: “would just one really hurt?”

Probably not, is the answer, which makes it harder to resist. But then again, maybe it kind of would.

The tough thing about chronic inflammation in the body, especially related to food, is that it is low-grade, and seems “normal.” I didn’t know I was always tired and foggy, or how much my allergies, reactive airways and eczema affected me – until all these things cleared up. I didn’t know how bad off I was until I gradually got better. And, once you have one tortellini, it’s easy to have more, thinking there’s no problem – until you gradually get worse again.

Hence, the strict process of “reintroduction,” which I am now entering. I made a list of foods I really want to eat again. Thai food, gluten-free grains, and maybe some goat milk yogurt and granola (with paleo sweeteners) all made the list.

Post-meltdown, my doc gave me a great reminder – whatever you do, the most important thing is to listen to your body. If I’m craving dietary variety, it’s a sign that it’s time to start adding things in. But, in order to keep and bolster my new relationship with food, I need to be very intentional about how that happens. The goal is to eat those things I miss one at a time, leaving a couple of days of Whole30 between each new thing so that I can tell if it impacts my system, and how.

After my meltdown, I realized another thing that’s been getting me down: because I am still in the thick of it, I haven’t taken enough moments to celebrate the lifestyle changes I’ve made successfully so far.

One reason for this goes back to my relationship with food as celebration. We have cake at birthdays, dinner on Valentine’s Day, feasts on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and wine and cupcakes and happy hour snacks when it’s Friday.

How do I celebrate without treats? How do I treat myself without sweets? That’s what I have to figure out.

But first – a Pressed Juicery Freeze, because old habits die hard.

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Vanilla bean, dates, coconut milk – topped with strawberries, cacao, and coconut

 

Food and Feelings

Going Places

I use my favorite travel photos as my desktop backgrounds. I’ve told my computer to rotate through a folder of photos, all my best ones, changing every time it wakes from sleep. I love this way of remembering where I’ve been. Every time I open my laptop, a new place pops up and I’m flooded with memories of standing right there, looking at that, capturing the moment.

I wish I could capture the feeling. Sometimes it washes over me in a wave of nostalgic tears, and I sense so acutely that part of me is missing.

What part, you ask? There’s a lot of writing out there talking about how traveling changes your life, that it’s life-changing, that it impacts everything you think and believe in, thereby changing your life through all the life-changing experiences. Sense a pattern?

I kind of believe that, but I think it changes lives not in the generic just take off and land somewhere and you’re insta-changed sense, but in the sense of it really makes you think about yourself, where you came from, and where you’re going. And it makes you think about the now.

Maybe it’s a photo. Maybe it’s a song, or a smell. Sometimes I get any kind of sensory stimulus and it’s suddenly specific and transporting me back. I’m back on the streets of Valenciennes, strutting over the cobblestones with my school bag bouncing on my hip, in my no-nonsense black boots, watching out for ubiquitous dog crap (no matter how lucky it is to step in it). Other times I’m sitting in the Jardin de Luxembourg, under the Paris sunshine with my best friends, market cheese, and a bottle of wine per person. I’m alone in the deserted streets of Somain, walking to school before the sunrise. I’m in the metro, bathed in eau de métro – a mix of beer and pee, maybe some mold or garbage, occasionally punctuated by the wafting warm smell of a fresh batch of croissants from the metro cafés. I’m on a train heading somewhere I’ve never been, journaling about last weekend’s parties, my experiences with French people, my struggles with the language and with homesickness.

I was solo, all over the world. I made new friends and saw lots of things, and it was the first time I’d ever felt the true weight of my decisions. Each direction I took determined the likelihood of finding my way through a foreign land. Each social occasion determined whether or not I’d have genuine companions in my expatriation. Mulling over, making, and accepting my decisions was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. I learned my own agency: I can do whatever I want, I make my own life, and I accept the consequences of what I make. At the end of the day, the only thing that mattered was feeling comfortable in my boots and confident enough to explore again tomorrow.

Being back home is like, suddenly there are more people to take into account, and way more past and future things to think about. Old friends, S.O.’s, family members, a serious 8-4 job, the next job, the life direction. There are a lot more expectations about where I’ll devote my attention, a lot more things distracting me from what I’m doing now.

Those brief moments of nostalgia are breaths of fresh air in the muggy swamp of my routine.

Then again, so is the view of Mt. Rainier at sunrise on clear days, as I drive over Lake Washington. So are margarita nights with Mom, Indian food with Dad, sushi dates with my boyfriend and house parties with friends. So is the occasional trip out of town to see more of the great Pacific Northwest, and so are the funny stories from my days spent with kindergarteners.

Being on my own in a foreign place, concentrating on the now, the great things, the adventures of every day – it taught me how to bring that mentality everywhere. When I get those waves of nostalgia, it reminds me of the gifts of the present, of where I am. And even though I’m not alone, I’m not struggling with language, or traveling, or whatever else…I’ve still got the gifts of those experiences: many tools for feeling comfortable in my boots, and confident enough to explore again tomorrow.

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Going Places

Playing Teacher

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There’s what “playing teacher” used to look like.

I guess now I’ve been a real “teacher” for two years: first of French high schoolers, then of some rambunctious bilingual kindergarteners. Although those experiences were entirely different, one thing remained the same: I feel like a teacher who still thinks she’s a student.

This week, my head teacher left for a teacher training in California, and I was the head teacher for three days. I was nervous about it, having never been responsible for the learning of a class of kindergarteners. I shouldn’t have been; everything was prepared for me, and the only real work of a teacher I had to do was being present, engaged, and organized enough to lead the class through the days and hope they learned something.

Turns out, being present, engaged, and organized takes a lot out of me. It’s hard to describe teacher fatigue. I’ve tried in other posts, but the only real way to empathize is to be there. The little expectant faces, the way they all scream “ANNE! ANNE! ANNE!” at me until I acknowledge them, even if I’m talking to someone else…the way they bring me cookies and watch me until I eat them, the way they glow when I praise their work, the joy I feel when I see them mastering something new, and the patience it takes to explain something five times and five different ways, all while being pulled and tugged and poked and otherwise distracted…it really is a job in its own category.

In high school it was obviously not the same — they stayed at their desks, they didn’t yell out in class…they didn’t talk much at all. Responding in English class was probably social suicide. But there were similar moments of inspiration and learning — when I decided to teach them about country music and they all started singing along, for example… when I taught them philosophy and I saw the scrunchy puzzled face turn into a comprehending smile.

Regardless of the context, I still feel like I’m playing teacher. I’m too young, I’m too inexperienced, I haven’t encountered enough situations to know how to handle them all, I don’t have enough education, I don’t have any natural authority: all of these are things I’ve thought to myself in the past two years, over and over again.

I realized, this week, that teaching isn’t really about any of those things. It helps to have experience, which comes with age and encountering situations, and it helps to have education and natural authority. But most of being a teacher is about being present, engaged, and organized enough to  lead a class through a day, or a period, and hope that they’ve learned something.

I just found this perfect quote:

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I want to become an educator, and the only way to learn how is by playing at it. Sometimes, I’ll get things right.

Playing Teacher

On Kindergarten

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How I feel at school is analogous to how I feel in life. I’m a barely-adult. Sometimes I feel like I’m underemployed; my immense skills and talents gained from world traveling and an education from a prestigious university are wasting away, unused [in a fit of eyeroll-worthy pretention].

Other times, I end up sobbing in Mommy’s backyard, locked out and overflowing with self-pity, and life is just so hard. Those are the moments I want to be a kindergartener, not teach them.

I’d die to have someone pick the seeds out of my orange slices. I want someone else to receive an e-mail saying I need to bring a potato and a leek to school tomorrow, to put those vegetables in my backpack without letting me know I had that responsibility. I’d love to ask an all-knowing all-powerful adult to validate my drama, and to make my friends apologize for hurting my feelings. I’d happily burst into tears and jump into some strong person’s arms when I’m tired, or frustrated, or I just can’t go on.

I want it to be okay that I’m young, and I’m learning, but I can’t do what the older kids can do yet. I want someone wise to remind me of that undeniable truth: that we are always learning and never perfect, and if you’re perfect what’s there to learn?   

But something happens when you’re in the repeat-childhood that is your 20s — you get to be “independent.” I became my own wise adult. Not only that, but I get to be the wise adult for my little almost-students, who are totally dependent. I have a wise adult voice, a wise adult air of confidence. My wise adult self makes sure they wash their hands with soap and teaches them it’s L M N O P and not ello-meno-pee so maybe they can read someday. 

But inside I know the truth: I am not a wise adult. Sometimes I can’t remember to bring my own potato and leek, and I can’t find the words to validate my own drama or make my friends apologize to me for hurting my feelings. All that feels like my fault and my shortcoming, because now it’s my responsibility.

Maybe the illusion that barely-adulthood is shattering is that wise adults “know what they’re doing.” Maybe they’re all just doing what they can, and that’s either enough…or not, sometimes. 

Or the true illusion is independence. Maybe I am only slogging through “becoming wise” because I know there are people behind me who would tie my shoes and help me zip my coat, if my fingers were numb or I didn’t know how.

Maybe we’re all still kindergarteners, inside, and we still need each other. 

On Kindergarten